Connecting Mexican Interns with Campus Mentors

Mexican university student Andrea Aguilera is at UC Davis getting a head start on a research career she hopes will some day empower her to solve environmental problems in her country.

The 22-year-old is developing research skills through a new program that has brought 27 Mexican undergraduates to UC Davis for two-month research internships.

“I’m working with high-technology equipment, and I’m learning many new skills,” Aguilera said. “This is going to help me for my professional life.”

The Research Experience Undergraduate for Mexican Students Program — a partnership of the Mexican government and UC Davis — is an example of the renewed interest of the United States and Mexico in promoting educational, technological and scientific exchange.

Advancing UC-Mexico Initiative

It advances the systemwide UC-Mexico Initiative to address common issues and educate the next generation of leaders through increased student exchange, continuing education for professionals in Mexico and collaborative scholarship.

“The program helps meet the need for research experience that can be hard to come by for Mexican students in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” said Adela de la Torre, vice chancellor of Student Affairs and a professor in the Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies.

Yoga, bowling and dorm food

Selected from among more than 400 applicants, the students arrived in mid-June and are staying in UC Davis residence halls, eating at the dining hall and exploring campus activities from yoga classes to bowling.

They are researching topics of common interest to the two countries but as varied as border issues, water resources, health and education. And they are interning in the colleges of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Letters and Science, and Engineering, as well as the Graduate School of Management.

Aguilera, in her final year of environmental engineering studies at La Salle University in Mexico City, is analyzing how bacteria bind to soil minerals and how they can be used to remediate contaminated soil and influence the nutrients available.

Mentored by soil chemistry prof

Woman in lab coat holds a rock while another pair of hands holds another rockin the foreground
Andrea Aguilera, an undergraduate student from Mexico, examines highly weathered iron oxide (red) and kaolinite rich deposit (white) soil samples with her mentor, Assistant Professor Sanjai Parikh (hands in foreground), in a Briggs Hall lab. Karen Higgins/UC Davis photo

Sanjai Parikh, an assistant professor of soil chemistry, is one of 20 UC Davis faculty members and others mentoring the students. “I really enjoy working with students and think it’s really important to have undergraduates in the lab,” he said.

The program, a joint effort of the Mexican Consulate in Sacramento and UC Davis, is sponsored by the Commission for Educational Exchange between the United States and Mexico (COMEXUS), the consulting organization Migración y Desarrollo, and airline Aeromexico, among other organizations. It provides the students with airfare, lodging and meals.

For UC Davis, the program could help generate interest in graduate study and boost enrollment from south of the border. UC Davis had 28 graduate students from Mexico in fall 2013.

UC Davis and Mexican researchers collaborate through nearly 150 grants, and a UC Davis program offers students the opportunity to spend an academic quarter in a health internship in Oaxaca.

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